Lesson Plan by accinent


									                                            Lesson Plan

Length: ~45 minutes

Title: WWI: Trench Warfare and New Weaponry


This lesson is part of the World War I unit. Prior to this lesson, students learned about the causes of
war in Europe and the factors that led to U.S. involvement in the conflict. The purpose of this lesson
is to examine the conditions the troops in Europe faced and how improved technology altered the
course and experience of the war, particularly the way in which it was fought. After the lesson,
students will examine the home front and the war's effects on American civilians’ everyday lives
with special emphasis on the experiences of women, African Americans, and immigrants.


The lesson will begin with an excerpt from a soldier’s letter in which he shares his excitement about
arriving at the European battlefields with his brother. Then we will discuss who was doing the
fighting, why they were excited to fight, and why the Western Front was created (using maps and a
discussion of war plans). Next we will examine the conditions inside trenches and the strategy
behind this method of fighting using diagrams and photographs taken inside the trenches. After
viewing a video clip of soldiers attempting to cross no man's land, we will evaluate the effectiveness
of this strategy. Then we will discuss the new weapons that emerged during this war and their
effects on soldiers. Finally, we will talk about the human toll of trench warfare: lives lost and the
psychological damage of shell shock.


-Students will explain how a dispute over Alsace-Lorraine contributed to the outbreak of war and
examine how America's entry in the war shaped its course by analyzing trench warfare strategy, the
experiences of soldiers on the Western Front, and the impact of new weaponry in the conflict using
maps, diagrams, images, letters, video clips, discussion, and lecture. (MI Standard 6.2.2)

Anticipated student conceptions or challenges to understanding:

         One challenge when talking about war is engaging the students. Children today are
inundated with images of violence because it is all over the media. Consequently, I think it will be
difficult to make the horrors of trench warfare and new weapons resonate with them. In short, I fear
they might be too jaded to empathize with soldiers’ experiences. To help mediate this challenge, I
intend to use a lot of media (letter, photographs, video clips) that will humanize the experience. I
think that if I devote too much time to talking about trench warfare strategy and not how the
strategy affected the troops, students would become detached from soldiers' experiences. I believe
that it is extremely important for them to realize the human toll of the conflict.

       Another challenge is helping students see why this material is relevant, why it matters. My
goal with this lesson is to illustrate how fighting styles change in response to technological
developments. In the future when the class studies more conflicts (WWII, Vietnam,
Afghanistan/Iraq), we will again examine how these conflicts were fought. The styles of fighting
will have changed due to a multitude of circumstances, one of which is new technology. But, if we
continue to look at the fighting from a soldier's point of view (through letters, photographs,
interviews, etc.) we will see that wartime experiences (combat, missing loved ones, uncertainty over
the purpose of war) generally remain the same. So, amidst changes in conflicts there is a continuity
of human experience.


“Christmas Truce” song, powerpoint featuring excerpt of soldier's letter, maps of France, Alsace-
Lorrain, and the Western Front (as it changes throughout the war), diagrams of trenches,
photographs from inside the trenches, photographs of different types of weapons, video clip from
"A Very Long Engagement", and video clip showing shell shock's effects on soldiers.


Informal assessment using questions posed in class and looking over student responses on their
graphic organizers. Formal assessment consisting of two short-answer questions about the rationale
behind trench warfare and the effectiveness of this strategy on the unit test.

Scripted Introduction:

“We know why war broke out in Europe and the specific incidents that drew the U.S. into the
conflict. Now we will examine the battlefield conditions our troops faced when they arrived in the
frontlines and how new developments in weaponry shaped these conditions.”

Part 1 Who is fighting? Where are they going and why?

-As students come into the classroom at the beginning of class, have the song “Christmas Truce”
playing on the overhead speakers. Pass out the lyrics to students and ask them to describe what the
song is about (It is about an informal truce on Christmas Eve and Day of 1914 in some areas of the
Western Front. Some French, British, and German troops came out of the trenches and chatted,
exchanged gifts, and played soccer.)

-Explain: Now that we have examined why war broke out in Europe and how the U.S. became
involved, we are going to look at the battlefield conditions that the soldiers faced over there on the
front lines.

-Pass out graphic organizer. Explain that these questions address the most important information in
today’s lesson. If you can answer these you understand the central concepts about trench warfare
and will be well prepared for any test questions about this topic.

-Believe it or not, French, German (in 1914), and American soldiers (in1917, under General
Pershing) were initially enthusiastic about going to war.
       -Show excerpt of soldier’s letter (on powerpoint) and have a student volunteer read it aloud
       (soldier’s letter to his brother discussing how excited he is to go to Europe…later urges his
       brother not to join the army but to stay in school instead)
              *Possible end-of-lesson assessment: write a letter from this soldier’s perspective in
              which he describes his experiences on the Western Front in the trenches and his
              disillusionment with romantic notions of war*
              *Also, have students read/analyze poetry (Flanders Field, Wilfred Owen)*
       -Both sides thought it would be a quick and easy ordeal because each believed that they
       had come up with a battle plan that would ensure victory

-Many of the soldiers were very young (show picture of child German solider on powerpoint):
      -Initially Germany used young adults but soon was forced to put children as young as 12
      on the front lines
      -France and U.S. did not face such a severe troop shortage but put may teenagers on front
      lines (average soldier age: 21-23)

-Ask the class: What could be some advantages of recruiting young men to fight?

       -Young soldiers preferred because more willing to take chances and young people more
       interested in serving and more likely to enlist out of honor, pride, desire for adventure, no
       family to support yet; many were poor- had never experienced the world outside their small

-Where are these young men going? What is the Western Front, why was it created?

-War Plans:
       -Count Alfred von Schlieffen’s plan (chief of the German General Staff): send forces to stop
       Russian advances and send other forces to quickly drive through Belgium to get to Paris (a
       huge hammer blow while Russia slowly mobilized)
       -Plan 17 (French Plan): Plan XVII called for an advance by four French Armies into Alsace-
       Lorraine, territory rich in mining that France lost to Germany after the Franco-Prussian war
       of 1871
       -British and French armies unable to save Belgium, retreat to Marne River in France where
       they managed to stop German advance in 1914; this is where the first trenches were dug,
       across Northern and Eastern France
-show map of France and Alsace-Lorraine and map of the Western Front and how it shifted over the
course of the war (on powerpoint)
-Once these plans were set in motion, they were so detailed that deviating from them was nearly
impossible, making war a virtual certainty as they set both sides on a collision course in
northeastern France

Part 2 What are the troops doing over there? What was it like?
-Ask the class to describe trench warfare: What do you know about trench warfare?

-This type of warfare was not new- it was used in the Civil War. Involves opposing forces attacking
one another from relatively permanent systems of trenches dug into the ground; trenches are usually
close to one another

-Ask the class: What would be the advantage of fighting from a trench?
       -generally resorted to in situations of heavy firepower: the opposing forces feel compelled to
       “dig in” to the ground for protection, sacrificing mobility

-Trenches emerged within the first few months of WWI as heavy machine gun and artillery fire
forced the French and German troops to burrow into the soil to obtain shelter and survive

-Typical trench system consisted of 2, 3, 4, or more trench lines running parallel to each other at
least a mile in depth. The trenches zig-zagged (Ask the class: What is the advantage of zig-
zagging?) so that no enemy, standing at one end, could fire for more than a few yards down its
length. These main-line trenches were connected by smaller communications trenches that were dug
perpendicular to them, allowing food, ammunition, troops, mail, orders, etc. to reach the front lines.
Command posts, first-aid stations, kitchens were all embedded in the trenches. Front-lines usually
contained scattered machine gunners shielded by dirt mounds (from digging trenches) and barbed

-show aerial map of trenches and side-view diagram of trenches while discussing the information
mentioned above ↑ (on powerpoint)

-Ask the class: What do you think conditions were like in the trenches?
-show photograph taken from inside a trench (on powerpoint)

-they were cramped, muddy, and wet (trench foot), full of rats, disease spread quickly, dull

-In the war, opposing armies on the Western Front tried to break through the enemy’s trench system
by mounting infantry assaults preceded by intense artillery bombardments of the defending

(Give example using classroom set-up to simulate two opposing trenches and no man’s land)

-Now we will see what this looks like:

Part 3 Did it work?
-Show “A Very Long Engagement” video clip depicting French soldiers enduring artillery
bombardment and charging over the trenches into no man’s land, only to be slaughtered by German
machine gun fire. First give brief background/contextualization of the film: it is about a French
woman searching for her fiancé who was sent to fight on the Western Front. He tried to escape
service by intentionally injuring himself and, as punishment, was sent into no man’s land with no
weapons or protection (essentially a death sentence). No one actually saw him die so his fiancée
believes there is a chance he is still alive and is asking men who served with him for more
information (set in 1919, 1 year after the war was over). Tell students to consider the two questions
(written below ↓) while watching the clip.

-After the film:

-Ask the class: Do you think this is an effective strategy?

-Ask the class: What are some of the obstacles soldiers encountered as the advanced across no
man’s land?
-trench warfare a relatively futile strategy:
        -man with pistol, bayonets: ineffective against machine guns, artillery fire, many soldiers
        killed without ever seeing the enemy

-infantry attack preceded by heavy shelling which 1) alerted the opposing side that an attack was
coming, allowing them time to prepare and call up reserve troops and ammunition, and 2) the
bombings filled no-man’s land with shell holes, making it harder for troops to advance across it

-show photograph of no man’s land and point out huge holes made by the shells (on powerpoint)

-so, crucial elements of attack in trench system (element of surprise and a huge surge of troops)
were nearly impossible to attain

-armies fought fiercely for mere miles, sometimes even yards, of land; for example, First Battle of
the Somme in 1916 lasted about 5 months, 1.2 million killed between British, French, and German
armies but only 7 MILES of ground changed hands

-now we will examine the weaponry that made trench warfare so deadly and so difficult

Part 4 What are the troops up against?
-weapons encountered as soldiers went over the side:

-For EACH weapon, ask the class: Why would an army use this type of weapon? What is its
advantage in trench warfare? How did it affect soldiers?

-Also, show images of each weapon (on powerpoint) as you talk about it and be sure to reference
images (ex. point out how many men it takes to operate a machine gun and the size of an artillery
shell next to a soldier)

MACHINE GUN: Made it incredibly difficult to advance on the enemy’s lines because most guns
fired at a rate of 600 rounds a minute and soldiers carried little, if any, body armor. Especially
difficult for the French who envisioned an offensive war: large numbers of troops surging to meet
the enemy. But, machine guns decimated these waves of infantrymen and were still too heavy to be
carried by soldiers as they attacked the trenches. Germany avidly embraced this weapon.

ARTILLERY FIRE: Projectile-firing guns or missile launchers, many died without ever seeing the
enemy. Could launch a nearly 2,000 lb. shell 75 miles.

CHEMICAL WARFARE: Developed guns that shot tubes of gas instead of bullets. Considered
uncivilized but the armies became desperate for strategies to break the stalemate of trench warfare.
One such gas was chlorine which stimulated overproduction of fluid in the lungs, leading to death
by drowning. Also used tear gas grenades, gases that sent soldiers into sneezing fits, and mustard
gas which caused the skin to blister. Dangerous to both sides because winds often blew the gases
back on those who sent it. Use declined as protective gear improved.
AIRPLANE: Initially they were only used for scouting purposes. Dogfights: air combat between a
few pilots using machine guns mounted on their planes to shoot at each other. As technology
developed over the course of the war, airplane became faster and could carry heavy bomb loads.

TANK: Developed by the British. Important tool because machine gun and rifle rounds could not
penetrate it. Marked the beginning of the end of trench warfare because it was invulnerable to the
trenches’ ultimate defense: machine gun and rifle fire. They could drive through the enemy’s barbed
wire defenses and clear a path for infantry.

-these last two are examples of mechanized warfare: warfare that relies on machines powered by
gasoline and diesel engines

Part 5 What happened to the them?

-So, a combination of “digging in” strategy and new weapons made trench warfare both dangerous
and relatively ineffective in making large advances into enemy territory. Strategy became: exhaust
the other side’s troops, ammunitions, morale, etc first. Ironically, many thought the Great War
would be a war of movement. Stalemate lasted from 1914-1918.The influx of American men and
materials in 1917 tipped the balance in favor of the Allies,

-In the end, nearly 10 million soldiers died, over 100,000 were Americans. Over 6 million civilian
dead. Those soldiers who survived frequently suffered from “shell shock”, a mental illness whose
symptoms included a fixed, empty stare, violent tremors, paralyzed limbs, screaming, and haunting
dreams. It could strike anyone, even soldiers who appeared most manly and courageous cracked
under the incessant shelling and carnage.

-show youtube video of soldiers suffering from shell shock

-explain that no soldier escaped complete unharmed by his experiences in the war- if not physical
damage, mental issues

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